Movie Review – Allied (2016)

Director :  Robert Zemeckis
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :   Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Anton Lesser, August Diehl, Camille Cottin, Charlotte Hope, Marion Bailey.
Approx Running Time :   125 Minutes
Synopsis:  In 1942, a Canadian intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.

*******

Show me your chickens, Max.

Espionage, counter-intelligence, and general all-round spying, Zemeckis-style. Allied purports to be a tense, thrilling, twisty mystery thriller, but despite solid performances from the leads, excellent production design and attention to exacting period detail, and typical Zemeckis trademarks including visual effects and camera trickery, the film never really gets out of first gear. Allied remains inert throughout, offering scant moments of energy underneath its positively solemnised tone. Sadly, the film’s romantic aspects never mix well enough with its espionage narrative to allow adequate cohesion, and the emotional import Zemeckis hopes to achieve remain, sadly, unenthusiastic. Allied is a film that ought to have worked, but didn’t.

Pitt plays Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer working for the British during World War II. On assignment in Casablanca, he meets French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), where they work closely together to assassinate a Nazi Germany ambassador, before returning to London. Having married, Marianne becomes mother to their daughter Anna, while Max continues to work for the British, until the covert V-Section approach him with intelligence describing his wife as a German spy. As Max awaits intelligence intercepts to prove her innocence, the cat-and-mouse game of finding the truth begins.

If it’s any help to you, I found myself checking my watch constantly during Allied’s two-hour expedition into subterfuge, a remarkable effort for a filmmaker usually known for holding my attention. Allied isn’t terrible, and as a production you’ll go a long way to find one that isn’t as meticulously crafted as this, but I just couldn’t get into it. Bradley Pitt’s elfin youthfulness putting me off notwithstanding, Allied has the hallmarks of a classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age, a noir-thriller coloured with the best hues and ambience modern digital grading can muster, and Zemeckis’ widescreen shot selection is as always his trademark. But there’s something missing from Allied’s violence-skewed aesthetic, and that’s a sense of genuineness.

The trouble with films involving subterfuge, potential betrayal and truth-digging is that often the characters involved tend to be largely 2-dimensional, with the script more often than not tied up with the plot instead of developing character. Allied, as much as it tries to give Pitt’s Max and Cotillard’s Marianne a sense of sultry sexuality and intimacy, can’t find an even keel between its romantic elements and its wartime tension acumen. I never once felt for Marianne, given her femme fatale feel early in the film’s missionary setup and accomplishment. She’s a honeypot of allure and mistrust, and while Steven Knight’s convoluted screenplay attempts to give her a spark, a frisson, Zemeckis can’t muster the necessary chemistry between his two leads to make it work. Pitt, for all his beauty, makes an introspective and ultimately bland male figurehead, giving Max the same kind of complexity towards his wife as I have to a custard.

Smaller roles to Jared Harris, as Max’s commander, one-time Vicar Of Dibley bit-parter Simon McBurney as a genuinely odious V-Section operative, and Matthew Goode apparently reprising the role of Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight, offer minor distractions from the otherwise fruitless narrative of mystery Allied scrambles with. Knight’s script lacks the focus to really hammer home the burden of secrecy a plot twist like this one might engender. Pitt’s doe-eyed performance, and Cotillard’s off-at-the-knees double-act, form the two key legs in Allied’s tripod of tension, with Zemeckis’ being the third prong in this attempt to muster excitement. He cannot. Plane crashes, assassinations, leaping between France and London like it’s a trip to the shops, and an utterly wasted Lizzy Caplan “lesbian sister” subplot give the film a pulpy, wartime sense of scale, all rendered inert by the confusion surrounding the central characters.

While you’re watching it, Allied does enough to hold your attention. At times it’s even actually pretty good. Had it focused solely on the subterfuge arc, or solely on the machinations of Pitt’s intelligence operative, the film might have strengthened enough to survive repeat viewings. In trying to accommodate too much, indulge itself too often, and stumbling betwixt it’s romantic, melodramatic elements and punctuation marks of violence, Allied’s lethargy and decided ambivalence to both aspects of its fractured tale amount to little worth worrying about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normally detesting these kinds of bios, Rodney’s keen love of film more often outclasses his ability to write convincingly about them.

Never blessed with a body worthy of a porn star, nor being the heir to a wealthy industrialists fortune, nor suffering the tragedy of having his parents murdered outside a Gotham theater, Rodney is, contrary to popular opinion, neither Ron Jeremy, JD Rockefeller, or Batman.

As a serious appreciator of film since 1996, Rodney’s love affair with the medium has continued with his online blog, Fernby Films, a facility allowing him to communicate with fellow cineasts in their mutual love of all things movie.

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Posted in Movie Review.

5 Comments

  1. I'm usually in the camp that sees Zemeckis as a can-do-no-wrong director … or at least I used to be. But I didn't like The Walk – found it incredibly boring which was surprising given the subject matter. I worry about this one too, now even more so after reading your review. He's lost his mojo.

    • I'm not sure what it is, but ever since he went all mo-cap computer movie stuff, his style has just lost its zing. I often think great filmmakers need to be challenged as artists to flourish, and Zemeckis (of all modern greats) appears to be be stuck in a rut just a bit, which is a shame. He still has great films in him I'm sure; The Walk and Allied aren't among them. I always felt Zemeckis was our modern Hitchcock equivalent, only without the stage presence.

      • Interesting Hitchcock comparison – What Lies Beneath certainly showed he could spar with the best thriller/mystery storytellers. He'll always be one of my favourite directors thanks to his body of work from I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars and Back To The Future through to Contact and the aforementioned What Lies Beneath. Flight was quite good too but generally speaking the mo-cap stuff has preoccupied his creativity (too obsessed with this new form like a kid playing with new toy). I wonder if James Cameron has gone the same way (although Avatar was definitely a winner). Problem with Cameron is that it takes him so long to produce new stuff!

        • To my mind, Contact, Cast Away and WLB, along with Roger Rabbit, give us the best look at Zemeckis in full flight. These films deliver solid stories mixed with terrific visual effects and "cleverness", and I doubt he'll equal them. Flight, meh, and The Walk, not bad, but Allied kinda got lost somewhere. I love a director who can push himself, but if feels maybe like Zemeckis is relaxing into just making films that don't push him anymore?

  2. I'll be happy if he reserves enough energy to prevent anyone from remaking/rebooting Back To The Future although I wouldn't be averse to him looking at some kind of sequel (maybe). I still think he has a good film or films in him.

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